Given my state of mind for the last entry in this blog, I would like to begin here by addressing the awesomeness of the Big Ten Tournament, particularly the FANTASTIC performance by my very own Spartans!!!!!!!!
I was really, really excited to see how they re-grouped after the Ohio State loss. They were focused and ready to play. Not only that, but I thought their defense was terrific and I loved how various guys stepped up each game. Everyone gives Draymond Green a lot of credit (and they should) but MSU has a lot of guys that do a lot of things well. I LOVED that Ohio State game. It was intense, physical and you could really tell that winning that tournament title meant a lot to both clubs....and even I felt intense--my palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and I had to physically remind myself to BREATHE. I was so happy they won and even though I wouldn't have cared if they'd gotten a 2 seed, it was pretty awesome to see them get a 1.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO THE BRACKETS!!!
How excited are you for this tournament? If the conference tournaments were any indication, this is going to be one crazy ride. Instead of doing all kinds of game by game analysis (because let's be real, I'm not ACTUALLY qualified to do that), I'm just going to give my thoughts on some matchups and teams in general.
All the "experts" are all about Kentucky here and I don't blame them. Please understand I think Kentucky is a VERY, VERY good team. They have incredible talent and a coach that knows what he's doing and can get the best out of his guys. BUT. I'm not totally enamored of them, I have to say. With the exception of a couple of teams (Florida, Vandy), I think the SEC is pretty weak and I don't think UK has had many challenges or faced too much adversity. I also think that all the youth on that team can really be a factor in the tournament. The pressure and the expectations are a lot to handle--not to mention the sheer SCOPE of the tourney--the atmosphere, the schedule, the fact that most people are rooting against you because you have a 1 in front of your name. I think Kentucky is really good, but I don't think they're invincible. If they go up against an athletic team with a lot of size and experience, they could be in trouble.
The match-up in this region that's really giving me pause is Notre Dame and Xavier. ND had a rocky start and lost their best player to injury...but somehow managed to regroup and make a run through the Big East. Xavier had an amazing start to the season until that horrible brawl against Cincy and then it all seemed to go downhill. They seemed to figure something out though on the way to the A10 championship game--but have they figured out enough? I love Xavier, and when they were on, they looked like a Final Four team early this year. I can see them viewing the tournament as a fresh start and playing with a lot of drive and emotion. But I can also see ND just being a little too much for them. The Big East is a tough conference and ND has certainly been battle-tested. The jury's out on this one...I still can't decide.
I also can't decide about Baylor. I've seen them do really well....and seen them choke in big games. I want to think they can make a deep run but I can also see them, as well as Duke, getting bounced early. Duke to me is super vulnerable. They have some athleticism in the Plumlees, but that's about it. And if Ryan Kelly doesn't come back or isn't at full strength, they're even more depleted. They're also a team that lives and dies by the 3. If they meet a really fast, strong, athletic team, and the 3s aren't falling, they're toast. I also don't respect their defense--or should I say, lack thereof. Of course, Duke will ALWAYS have the advantage of one of the best coaches in the game in Coach K. And their players, while not necessarily "athletic" are both intelligent and skilled. I could see them getting far, but I could also see them losing to the ND/Xavier winner.
More tomorrow on a different region--let me know what you think about the South!